Monthly Archives: June 2012

Walking Up A Notch: Racewalking Considered

A friend told me about a racewalking clinic with the London Pacers in London, Ontario. Essentially it was an occasion for racewalkers to hone their walking techniques, or for non-racewalkers to find out more about this sport. Racewalking is an Olympic event. It has its own rules and judging criteria. If one compares the results of the average runners, racewalkers, and  power/fitness walkers, the racewalkers’ pace is closer to the runners’, and significantly faster than a power/fitness walker.

Even though I am a walker with some racing experience, I have not considered myself a racewalker, for the simple reason that I have not attempted to adhere to the forms and rules of racewalking. Some years ago, when I started walking, I attended a clinic conducted by Dave McGovern, who coached the USA racewalking team, to find out what it’s about, but for various reasons I was not able to carry on with racewalking afterwards. The London clinic seemed an excellent opportunity for me to get back to some basics again. Maybe I could improve my walking speed?

The day began with Sherry Watts (Level 4 race walking coach*) giving a short introduction  on the basic rules, techniques and proper form in racewalking, as well as the choice of shoes. Then we went out to practice. My group was coached by Sharon O’Leary, Ontario 20K racewalk champion. We went through the hip swing, the straight leg landing, the hind leg push off, the “pop” to extend the stride, and arm movements.

We were individually given tips to improve on whatever aspect that needed the most  correction. We were videotaped.

The afternoon session included a talk on training for races,  bio-mechanics of racewalking and a critique of our forms. It was very helpful for me to know that despite my ability to perform a straight knee and heel landing, my foot flopped too soon and this had been limiting my stride.  I was advised to work on my toe push off with my hind leg.

The reason I enjoy walking as a sport is that it is inexpensive and convenient. The only equipment I need is a pair of good shoes. I can walk whenever and wherever I like, without depending on the availability of a gym, a court or a field. Walking is also an all-season sport.

Above all, I like the fact that the techniques I learn can change the way I move my body and how it performs. My body is both the agent (admittedly, directed by my brain) and the tool. By this I mean I am not performing with the help of a piece of equipment, like a tennis racquet. My shoes matter but this is for protection inasmuch as it is for facilitating performance. If I maintain my body well, I can manipulate it to hopefully achieve the desired results. (I can think of two other activities which fall into this category: the floor exercise in gymnastics and singing.) Of course, this may be easier said than done, given all the known factors that can affect sports performance. For now, I have a new goal and I like the challenge. I ‘ll try to walk up a notch.

(*The Canadian National Coaching Certification Program [NCCP]  has five levels. Level 4 coaches are qualified to coach athletes competing in the Olympics.)

Aging Gracefully: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I do not miss a movie if Judi Dench is in it. I am also very fond of British humour in movies. These two ingredients combined brought me to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I sat there laughing and thinking, and I left the cinema feeling quite content.

The story line is plain simple. It follows seven British seniors who travelled to India at the same time (yes, a coincidence indeed) and stayed in the same hotel which turned out to have past the time of its former glory.The reasons of their travel to this destination were not entirely clear; while one of them may have a more plausible reason (retired housekeeper Muriel-Maggie Smith), another a hidden agenda (retired high court judge Graham-Tim Wilkinson), and yet the others were probably lured by the charm of a hotel for seniors in the advertisement they came across online.

Most of these senior came with a relatively adaptable mind and so soon after the initial disappointment or even shock that the hotel did not turn out to be what they had expected, they took it in stride and made the best of what the place had to offer. Evelyn (Judi Dench) found a job, Graham pursued relentlessly to find his long lost friend, Douglas (Bill NIghy) went out to soak up the local culture in spite of his wife’s (Jean–Penelope Wilton) reluctance, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie), both unattached, tried to look for a probably partner and excitement in life. Even Muriel, who appeared to be the most bigoted of all, mellowed and accepted the locals around her.

One message in the movie was, “You have failed only if you have not tried”. The only “failure” was Jean, so well-portrayed by Penelope Wilton. but she was gently let go to return home. She came across to be surprising magnanimous with her departing speech to Douglas.

The shared experience of these seniors had enabled them to change. They found new friendship, love and understanding, as well as a new page in their lives.

The acting was suberb. The creme de creme of British actors and actresses were in this movie. Even Dev Petal had matured since his Slump Dog days, but he did pale in the company of the rest of the seasoned cast. His character was there for an added dose of optimism. We heard from him repeatedly, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, it is not the end yet.” Unfortunately, the inconsistency in Sonny’s character development made the role difficult to convince.

With or without Sonny’s sanguine outlook, this was still a feel good movie. Even seniors can change and continue to grow. I was particularly amused with Evelyn told her son to check her Blog. She must have learned a lot since this diffident woman telephoned the internet provider at the beginning of the movie asking about broadband and Wi-Fi.

The critic who believes that the lineup for this movie is only for the 65-year old set and this same audience will not line up fore the Avengers suffers hopelessly from a lack of appreciation for aging gracefully. What about vice versa? I think that people who stereotype something is for the senior and something is for the young only reveal their own narrow-mindedness. They are discriminating on the grounds of Age. I hope those critics who think that this movie is meant only for the elderly will come out of the closet of their negative expectations. We are all growing old one day; don’t be afraid to face it!

The movie was colourful and Jaipur was brought to life at daytime and at night. The story moved at a good pace, as it focused on the “here and now”, which promised hope for the future. I do not think I need to delve into the past of our senior heroes and heroines. They have taken control of their own lives. They have triumphed over that lost generation who think that they are entitled to everything that they have not worked for. Our senior protagonists deserve our applaud.

Mindfulness on the Longest Day

I woke up before 5:30 a.m. this morning. It’s daybreak. Just enough time to get to the lakeside where I knew some of my walking friends would come out for a morning workout called Strength and Balance. I saw the sun pop out of the horizon as I parked my car. This was a glorious start to my day. I felt inspired.

Being mindful of this feeling gave me a sense of peace and serenity.I let my mind relax and directed my attention towards myself. During the workout, my senses became more acute to the challenges my body was going through as I performed the physical drills. My mind went to my abs, my arms and my breathing. I felt strength channeling through my body. I also felt fatigue and the burning of my tired muscles. I acknowledged all these as they came into my awareness. They were all part of me.

As the day went on, I deliberately became mindful of my moments in between or during some tasks or activities, I allowed my mind to relax and let myself become aware of my thoughts and feelings.

My thoughts frequently drifted to those I cared for a lot in recent days. I had images and thoughts of JM, who was putting up a brave fight against terminal cancer. I thought about the friends and her family trying to support her. I thought about VL, who told me a couple of days ago his anguish and fear regarding the future of his career. I became aware of a few others who needed strength and confidence in their lives.

These were amazing moments when I allowed my thoughts and  feelings to “be”. I recognized them, briefly hang onto them and accepted them, and calmness prevailed.

Well, it has been a long day; after all, it’s the longest day of the year. It has also been a very meaningful day. Admittedly, I cannot remember any single longest day of the year in my sextagenerian existence that I would consider special. This day of the year has been significant only because it is the day before my birthday, the fond memories of which naturally overshadowed those from the day before. Today I have made a difference. I have shared this day with the people I care for and I love in a mindful way. In true mindful spirit, this is what it is, just a day, but I will always remember this day.

As I am writing this post, the sky has cleared again after a brief thunder storm. It’s calmness outside and inside me.

(My mindfulness exercise is more a western psychological version of the art, even though some claim that it can trace its roots to Buddhist meditation. I subscribe to a practice that directs my attention to the immediate or on-going experience, or the so-called “here and now” of my sensation, thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, the orientation is towards openness and acceptance of the experience on hand. )

.References:  Bishop, S.R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., et al. (2004).“Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition”Clin Psychol Sci Prac 11:230–241.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

Walking in Ottawa (2): Rideau Hall

I discovered another nice walking venue besides the Rideau River TraiI on my recent visit to Ottawa– the grounds of Rideau Hall, official residence of the Governor General on 1 Sussex Drive.

There were two tree-lined paths leading up to the front entrance of the building.

The grounds was designed like an English country estate, but not without the Canadian input represented by an inuksuk and a totem pole.

My walk took me to the Heritage Garden,

and the rose garden.

I was there on a hot sunny afternoon. It was bliss walking under the shades of these big trees and looking at the plaques with the names of the persons who planted them.

I spotted the trees planted by the British royal family in close proximity to one another. Here is the red oak planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.

Then I saw the ones planted by Prince Charles and Prince Andrew in 1971 and 1978 respectively. They were also red oak.

I was quite delighted to discover the eastern hemlock that Will and Kate (Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) planted on their visit soon after they were married in 2011.

The tree planted by Japanese Emperor and Empress was the same specie the one for the Duke of Duchess of Cambridge. I wonder how the species of trees were chosen.

The Rideau Hall ground was quite big, and much of it was open to the public for picnics

and cricket.

This brought back found memories of watching cricket at the Lords in London on a hot, lazy summer afternoon.

Of course I also walked inside Rideau Hall on a guided tour with other visitors. Unfortunately no photography was allowed inside.

Maybe the only disappointment was that the Governor General did not step out, even though the flag on the top of Rideau Hall suggested that he was on site. Otherwise, our group would be so happy to greet “His Excellency”, which was the proper address our guide had asked us to practice so well.

Walking in Ottawa (1): Rideau River Trail

The best way to know a city is by walking. Sounds like a cliche, but there are different definitions of walking in a city.  I have been to Ottawa several times. Every time, I walked a lot– to Byward Market, up Parliament Hill, to the museums and galleries, and walking inside and outside the sightseeing attractions.

The walking I did on my recent visit to Ottawa was slightly different, but well worth it! I walked for the sake of walking, and Ottawa had some good places to offer.

I walked on the trail along Rideau River. It was paved, scenic and well maintained.

A yellow line was painted down the middle of the trail to demarcate up and down traffic, even when it ran on the side walk.

This was helpful, since there were many cyclists as well as runners and walkers using this trail even in the early morning hours I was out there.

I followed this trail from near the RCMP Headquarters to Sussex Drive, and it was about 10K out and back.  I saw maps along the trail, as well as signs showing where to enter the trail from the residential areas nearby.

I passed by a rapid,

and then saw some geese.

As I approached Sussex Drive, a building with interesting architecture came into view on the other side of the river bank.

A cyclist told me that it was the old city hall and I saw a bridge which would take me over to the opposite bank to explore its grounds; maybe that’s for my next visit.

A big city does not need to sprawl. Ottawa doesn’t and I like it for its accessibility. With my walk on this trail, I no longer feel like a tourist in Ottawa. I feel privileged that I have done something that any ordinary citizen would do in the capital city. I would like to come back many times more.

Book Club Review: Ru, Kim Thuy

I went to my first book club meeting, and sat down with nine ladies to talk about Ru by Kim Thuy. It was a beautiful book, from the lacy-like cover to the contents inside. We all felt that it was a very feminine book. It also was the winner of the  2010 Governor General’s Award for French language fiction. (Nobody mentioned chick lit here.)

The theme of the book was the memoir of the author, who left Vietnam at a young age during the Vietnamese War and settled down in Montreal to start a new life. It evoked some shared experience among many of us, because there were at least six persons in our group who were either immigrants to Canada or had close family ties overseas. Personally, I had poignant moments reading the book when the author wrote about an altered sense of the past, present and future when she landed in a foreign land. I also related to her need to share with her children the culture and the history of her home that she left behind. As she switched between past and present her vignettes, the emotional journey moved between that of an innocent young 10-year girl to that of a loving mother with two sons to raise. How true is the realization that not until one becomes a mother can one appreciate what maternal love means.

I knew that what she wrote about the hardship leaving Vietnam in a boat, how fellow travellers hid their money, gold and in her case diamonds, and the life in the refugee camp was real. I had professional contacts with Vietnamese immigrants in the camps in Hong Kong and in my work in Canada and they had similar stories to tell. What surprised me though was given this terrible war and  the atrocities that had happened to many refugees that she was aware of, the author was able to treat it in the same dream-like and lyrical style as she did with her other material. Were the details too painful to recall? Or was it that the memory had become distant–like a dream now?

Again, our discussion revolved around personal immigrant experience and sense of identity among our children. Our sentiments ranged from dismay, frustration to resignation. This made me think of Banana Boys, written by Terry Woo. Actually the book was brought to my attention by my children. I was glad to have read the book, and talked about it with them. For lack of a better description, we had a cathartic moment.

In the end, our book club members all agreed on one thing. The best way to be introduce a culture to someone is the food–what could be better than a dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant for all of us down the road.

City View Park and Side Trail: A Preview

The City of Burlington (Ontario) has a new park. The City View Park is situated at the southeast corner of Kerns Road and Dundas Street. Its significance to the hiker, other than how much tax money has gone there and what it is used for, is that it opens a new side trail to the Bruce Trail. The official opening of the park is in two weeks time. Hence, this is a Preview.

First, the Park. One can recall from recent memory that the park was considered a venue for the PanAm Game 2015. Even though the Game will not be coming to Burlington, the two soccer fields with artificial turf are the flagship features.

You should feel the “grass” and the “soil”, like I did, to appreciate what FIFA certification quality means.

A path and a foot bridge link up various areas:

such as a playground and a pond.

Ample parking spaces in this park also make it ideal for large outdoor events.

I noticed the artistic design on the back of a metal bench, and a metal garbage bin with a similar design to match!

To make my tax money worth, I’d better utilize these features some time.

The blue blazers of the Bruce Trail indicates the entrance of the new side trail,

with its freshly paved wood chips.

It is less than 500m in length,  passes an open field and  joins up with the main Bruce Trail where it overlooks Kerncliff Park and the city.

You know you are still close to the city walking on this side trail from the road noise of Dundas Street.

I did not go into the Bruce Trail this morning. Instead I walked on the broadwalk of Kerncliffe Park to see what the wetland had to offer. I heard the croaking of a frog, but no sighting.

Each time I go to Kerncliff Park, my favourite view is looking up onto the Bruce Trail, and marvel at the cliff formation of the Niagara Escarpment. This photo turns out all right despite the cloudy day.

Chick Lit and Chick Flicks

I recently joined a book club, first time ever. I was quite excited because I was hoping to expand my genre with the recommendations from other members.  Besides, I like reading and I now have the time to attend a book club once every six weeks. The week before my club met, I was having lunch with a writer friend, and out of curiosity I asked her if she belonged to a book club. She told me that she belonged to an arts and literary guild, but not book clubs, adding, “They read chick lit in book clubs.” I heard the tone of disapproval.  I secretly congratulated myself that my book club did not just read chick lit.

I cannot blame her.  When I read, I am cerebrally and viscerally involved. I want a non-formulaic plot, I look for character development, the social or historical context, and the author’s style. In short, I am not satisfied unless I experience depth and power in my reading experience. My mind is active. Thoughts and emotions are stimulated. I also want to pause whenever I feel the need to mull over a word, a sentence or an idea. Unfortunately, popular as they are among many women readers, chick lit seldom meets my requirement. At best the books are good, but not good enough for me.

When it comes to chick flicks, my requirement is diametrically different. I watch a movie or DVD only when there is nothing better to do. Essentially it means that I can afford two hours to give my mind a break, allow myself to be occupied and perhaps be entertained. (This can be usually be achieved when I am on a plane.)

For me, watching a a move is a often a passive activity (oxymoron unintended).  Chick flicks fit my bill.  I like good acting, but when I watch chick flicks, I don’t even expect that. The chick flicks I like? Chocolat (Judi Dench of course), The Devil Wears Prada (none other than Meryl Streep) and Julie, Julia (Streep again). Well, acting does count after all.

(According to Wikipedia, both chick lit and chick flicks cater to the female readers/audience. They feature a female protagonist who deals of issues of womanhood, often related to relationship, but not necessarily love and romance. includes Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as an example of chick lit. If Bronte had known, she would probably have turned in her grave.)

Walking the Blue-Green Walk

The day after the much needed rain for my front and back yards in the past 36 hours, the question for me was: Where should I walk? The unpaved trails would likely be too muddy and even slippery. So I decided to walk on the paved surface of two of my favourite trails in Hamilton.

Desjardins Recreation Trail begins at Princess Point, Cootes Paradise, which is under the auspicious of the Royal Botanical Garden.

This trail is lit at night, cleared of snow in the winter, and there are three portable toilets strategically placed along the trail.


This is a very popular trail, but if you go out early in the morning,  you are in the company of  birds,  water fowls, squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks.

On this particular morning, the air was clean after the rain, and the vegetation looked greener as well. The water level had risen.

Some keen fishing folks were out as early as I.

I encountered a family of Canada geese. I generally do not mind sharing the path with Canada geese, but why do they deposit all these landmines on the trail?

I was very happy to see the beaver’s home that I saw last winter still there.

After about 5K, the trail joined the Hamilton Waterfront Trail.

There was a docking place for canoes.

There was a man-made beach.

The trail led all the way to Pier 4 in the West Harbour area, where I decided to turn around.

(In case you decide to start from the West Harbour and walk out to Princess Point and back, you can give yourself a treat at the William’s Coffee Cafe after this 8K walk.)

Throughout this walk, I was in surrounded by greenery and the water was by my side. This was a blue-green walk. According to  a couple of research reviews, this walking environment would led to a better sense of well-being, compared to an exercising environment that was only outdoor but without the water, and to exercising indoor. (Ref: see below.) Well, I have not put on my scientist hat to review the primary sources. I just let nature nurture me and it was the perfect start to my day.

Ref.:  Jo Barton, & Jules Pretty, What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for improving Mental Health? A Multi-Stiudy Analysis. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44(10), pp. 3947-3955

J. Thompson Coon, K. Boddy, K. Stein, R.Whear, J. Barton, and M. H. Depledge, Does Participating in Physical ‘Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review.  Environ. Sci. Technol., 2011, 45 (5), pp. 1761-1772.

Spring Creek Trail (and Rail Trail revisited)

The Trail Centre of the Dundas Valley Conservation is located about 5.5K from the Ewen Road entrance of the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail.

This is the former depot, with the sign Sulphur Spring  still up. At this point, there is a choice of continuing on the Rail Trail or turn into the Bruce Trail by following the white blazer.

At the entrance of the Bruce Trail, a plague reads, “May the joy of nature inspires your directions in life.”

One can also go behind the Trail Centre and enter the Spring Creek Trail.

The terrain of the Spring Creek Trail is more hilly than the Rail Trail. It is unpaved, and many sections have tree roots exposed. No wonder this morning I met some hikers walking with their sticks.

As the day became warmer, our walking group chose Spring Creek Trail for our return lag, because it was also shadier than the Rail Trail. We came off Sanctuary Park, with its playground, about 3K from the Rail Trail entrance.

My nature pic for this walk was a sea of fern.